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Campus police scrutinized in recent report

Editor-in-Chief

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 00:02

National research has frequently concluded one in every four women will be sexually assaulted on college campuses.

In an attempt to understand the relationship between law enforcement and victims of sexual assault, Sam Houston State University researchers surveyed various campus law enforcers in Texas to gain insight to their perception and response techniques in cases of sexual assault. The results were published in a January newsletter.

SHSU criminal justice research associate Nicole Wilkes, associate professor Leana Bouffard, Ph.D., and graduate assistant Molly Smith conducted the research in conjunction with the Texas Association against Sexual Assault and the Crime Victim’s Institute.

Wilkes said the research was intended to highlight sexual assault from the responders’ point of view.

“There’s been very little research done with this population,” she said.

In their findings, titled “Sexual Assault on College Campuses: Perceptions and Approaches of Campus Law Enforcement Officers,” respondents agreed sexual assault was a problem on Texas college and university campuses, but very few thought it was an issue on their campus – only 37.2 percent. However, most respondents believed their campus police agencies took “sexual assaults the most seriously.”

“Only one respondent believed that campus police departments failed to take sexual assaults seriously,” the report said.

Less than half of the surveyed officers – 45 percent – believed Texas colleges and universities have effective responses to campus sexual assault, an issue Wilkes ties to involvement with outside advocacy groups.

Wilkes said a highlight of the research findings was the lack of involvement respondents had with collaborative groups that are dedicated to preventing sexual assault.

“There are high rates of victimization, but the past couple of years, campuses across the nation haven’t responded well,” she said. “I hope this [research] starts a dialogue of how we can do better as a campus.”

The report added 69 percent of respondents said Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) are available at the majority of the department represented, 34.5 percent of respondents were not aware their university offered a student organization of counseling center dedicated to preventing sexual assault.

Although SHSU’s counseling center and health clinic assists sexual assault victims, there isn’t a SAN examiner on staff.  However, the Huntsville Sexual Assault and Abuse Free Environment – SAAFE House – works with victims from SHSU and in the community as well as University Police Department.

The report stated campus law enforcement officers remain a key role in responding to sexual assault cases and to effectively combat sexual assault, more than one entity will need to work hand in hand.

“Improving responses to college sexual assault will need to include multidisciplinary collaboration amongst campus authorities and community agencies, including law enforcement officers,” the report stated.

Since 2007, there have been 15 reported sexual assaults at SHSU. According to UPD Chief Kevin Morris, sexual assault is an underreported crime and doesn’t reflect what is happening at SHSU. UPD currently is working alongside the SAAFE House to strengthen victim protection in the case of a sexual assault case, Morris said.

According to the report, police officers who receive specialized sexual assault training are more aware of victimization occurring on campus as well as developing a different approach to responding to sexual assault cases.

“Does it happen on our campus? Yes it does,” Morris said. “We don’t want this to happen. If you are victimized, I highly encourage you to report it.”

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